FCC Says It Will Study Effects of Radio Broadcast Geotargeting on Emergency Alerts
Thursday, November 10, 2022 | Comments

In a letter to Congress, FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said the commission is studying the effects of an FCC proposal to allow broadcast stations to geotarget content on emergency alerts.

“In order to enhance the agency’s technical understanding of this technology, the Media Bureau granted stations experimental authority to conduct tests in radio markets in Mississippi and California,” Rosenworcel wrote. “It also required that those stations submit reports regarding the tests into the record of the proceeding. The reports include detailed technical discussions about the operation of the booster technology, its compatibility with the Emergency Alert System and its impact on FM broadcasts.”

Rosenworcel’s letter was in response to a letter from 13 members of Congress, who expressed concern about an FCC proceeding that if approved would allow broadcast stations to use FM boosters to geotarget specific content.

“Local broadcast radio stations represent an essential source of information for Americans,” the members of Congress said in their letter. “This is even more true for those in rural communities, so many of whom have limited, if any, broadband service and may not be able to afford subscription satellite or even cellphone services. Broadcast radio is free, it is locally focused and it is a lifeline for those impacted by tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, wildfires and other severe weather.”

The letter noted that FEMA and others had expressed concerns about how the proposal could impact public-safety operations. A February 2021 filing from Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) Administrator Antwane Johnson argued that the booster zones could negatively impact Emergency Alert System (EAS) performance.

“While the rulemaking proposal, and subsequent presentations by proponents of the proposal, to allow booster transmitters to provide unique, localized program content endeavor to address technical questions and concerns, FEMA finds that these is little assurance in the record that EAS performance in and around such booster zones will not be negatively affected,” Johnson said in his filing.

In his filing, Johnson said FEMA supports efforts to improve technology but added that proper testing is necessary to ensure that there will not be negative impacts of that technology.

“While FEMA, as the operator of the national-level Emergency Alert System and the operator of IPAWS services, supports technology, development, additional consideration, analysis and testing must be completed first to measure and document the impact of the NPRM proposals on the concerns described above,” the filing said. “Critically from a public-safety perspective, negative impacts to EAS must be avoided before any changes to the booster service being considered by the FCC are adopted.”

In her letter to the Congress members, Rosenworcel said that the FCC is currently reviewing all of the feedback it received on the proposal.

“Before moving forward, the commission will carefully review the potential impact of this technology, including whether our existing rules provide any protections that would apply to this technology,” she wrote. “Please be assured that, as we work through the contents and data submitted in this proceeding and determine our next steps, the commission takes seriously our role in protecting against harmful interference and ensuring access to essential public-safety information through the Emergency Alert System.

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